Our wake up call was set for 4:00am. All of us were ready at 5:00am at the lobby when Jesus came to get us. He informed us that we will be going to the train station at Ollantaytambo to take the train to Machu Picchu. We had to make sure we brought sun screens, sun glasses, hats, bottle of water ( in case we get altitude sickness ), our passport and the most important item -- our cameras with lots of SD cards.
It was still dark when we arrived at the train station. I thought that I am going to be one of the lucky ones to get a SUNRISE shot in Machu Picchu.. I was wrong!! Our train left at 6:00am. The train ride to Agua Calientes was an hour and a half, and we had to take another bus ride ( 30 minutes -- on a narrow dirt road ) up to the site.
Aboard the train, Jesus explained to us that there was another way to get to Machu Picchu. Using the Inca Trail. There are 2 Inca trails to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is by far the most famous trek in South America and is rated by many to be in the top 5 treks in the world. There are 2 Inca trails to Machu Picchu. One was a 4-day trek which would cover 26 miles ( or 43kms ) which manages to combine beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest, subtropical jungle and a stunning mix of Inca paving stones, ruins and tunnels. Or you can opt for a shorter trek ( 7 hour trek ) to the site. Of course this shorter route to the site would largely depend on how fast you walk!
We passed several camp sites of the trekkers on our way to Agua Calientes.
We reached Aguas Calientes at 7:30am. According to Jesus, Agua Calientes is the closest access point to the historical site of Machu Picchu, which is 6 kilometres away or about an hour walk. The surroundings reminded me of Baguio.
The bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu takes about 20 minutes and costs US$8 each way ( US$16 return ). We expected that since it was still early -- there would be not much of a crowd ( the gate opens at 5:00am ), but we were wrong!! There was a gigantic line waiting for the buses! It didn't take all that long actually, and before I knew it we were heading on a very narrow uphill zig-zag road toward the site. The scenery you see as you ride up the mountain is a lush cloud forest with great views of the sacred mountain on the opposite side of the valley. The ride itself was spectacular as the narrow track winds its way up the mountainside. It can be a bit scary at times with almost vertical drops plunging down into the valley below especially when you meet a bus coming in the other direction! I kept being paranoid that the bus would veer off track and we'd tumble down the cliffs to our imminent death. Finally --- we arrived at our destination! I was so so excited!
As we alighted from the bus, Jesus led the group to wait in another line to get entry into the site. He advised all of us to try to stay close to him in order for us not to get lost in the crowd.
Huffing and puffing and feeling faint from the altitude, we climbed up many winding steps. We still couldn't see the city, so the anticipation was building. We turned one last corner and then suddenly, BAM!
You could see it all, hiding up in the mountains, surrounded by clouds. ( the photo above shows my first view ). It had a very surreal, almost an eerie feeling. All my altitude sickness seemed to disappear for a moment when I first laid my eyes of the site. I was in awe from all of the stunning views. I tried to imagine what it was like to have lived there during its prime.. It was hard to explain what it looked like and what it was like to be there without actually going, but in my opinion it was truly amazing. It is also interesting to think about how and why the civilization ended.
Set at around 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is a special place that demands your attention. Its mysterious significance in the ancient Inca universe, Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful and haunting destinations in the world. Once it has you snared in its web of intrigue, you are pretty much helpless to fight it.
Here are some photos of architectural spots you should not miss when you visit Machu Picchu.
The Temple of the Three Windows - each trapezoid extraordinarily cut with views of the bold Andes in the distance across the Urubamba gorge. This structure has three walls, while the fourth is an open space obstructed only by columns to support the roof.
The Sun Dial - During the time of the Incas the Sun Dial functioned as an astronomical and agricultural calendar.
Temple of the Sun - The rounded, tapering tower has extraordinary stonework, the finest in Machu Picchu. Its large stones fit together seamlessly. From the ledge above the temple, you can appreciate the window perfectly aligned for the winter solstice, when the sun's rays come streaming through at dawn and illuminate the stone at the center of the temple.
Below the temple, in a cave carved from the rock, is a section called the Royal Tomb, even though no human remains have been found there. Inside is a meticulously carved altar and series of niches that produce intricate shadows. What I found so intriguing was this flight of steps which was carved. It made me ask so many questions about the ancient civilization. Who helped these Incas build these massive structures??
These are stone pools which the Incas used to gaze at the stars. They would fill up these pools with water and use them as mirrors.
The Incas made regular blocks of granite fit so tightly together (without mortar) that there are areas where a knife cannot fit between the stones. Many buildings had trapezoidal doors and thatched roofs.
There are other sites that you can hike to while you are in Machu Picchu.
* Huayna Picchu - If you are looking at traditional postcard pictures of Machu Picchu in Peru, you will surely come across at least a few that show a distinct mountain rising above the ruins. This most recognizable peak is known as Huayna Picchu. It is 1200 feet higher than Machu Picchu. You will have to sign a waiver for this climb and you have to sign in and sign out when you climb Huayna Picchu. It certainly is not a relaxed climb. During the rainy season, extra care should certainly be taken along the way because the stone steps can get slippery and become very dangerous. Where the trail is most steep or narrow, you will find simple steps or rope handholds to help navigate. The trek to Huayna Picchu takes about 45 to an hour trek and they only allow 400 visitors a day to climb. You will have to make arrangements if you want to climb Huayna Picchu.
* Machu Picchu viewpoint - This is where you can get the whole view of Machu Picchu and it is also seen in all the postcards of Machu Picchu. You have to hike up to the house on the right side of the photo above.
Once we decided we had taken all the photos we wanted and had seen Machu Picchu to my satisfaction, we took the bus back into town. I was very happy with our visit---- it was everything I had ever hoped it would be, and more!
Machu Picchu still tops my list!! It is one place one should not miss. A site to remember for the rest of your life. Why don't you plan a trip to Machu Picchu, and you will not only be treating yourself to an adventure you will remember and most probably become the envy of your peers.